2016 was a year of firsts for a few players on both the men’s and women’s tours. Its end marked the first time Andy Murray has held the world no.1 ranking, and the same can be said for Angelique Kerber. Both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are not in the top eight for the first time since 2002. Stan Wawrinka came out of nowhere yet again to piece together another championship run. On the men’s side there appears to be few that can challenge the elite, and the same can be said for the women’s side. On this list are seven of the most potentially interesting players to watch in 2017 not including Stan Wawrinka. These players are of interest for various different reasons whether it be current playing levels, untapped potential, or ones ready for a comeback. It was tough to leave out Stan Wawrinka, but given the randomness of his championship runs, it is tough to assess his playing level. Now, without further ado then, let’s begin.
The 35 year-old tennis legend is still playing today- well past the age of many other tennis greats. That in itself is a feat he can add to his long list of achievements. The seventeen-time Slam champion missed the entire second half of the season recovering from a back injury. This missed time caused him to drop to 16th in the ATP World Tour Rankings. It also marked the first time since 2001 that he did not win a single title. Could we be reaching the end? Well, to be fair, he was ranked #3 when he went down, so he definitely has some pretty good tennis left in him. The only question is if he can return to that level after returning from an injury all while he fights his greatest rival: father time.
The King of clay turned 30 years old this year. These days 30 is not that too old on tour, but with that 30th birthday came another round of injuries that seem to greet the Spaniard at every turn. Nadal has not won a Slam since 2014. This comes as quite concerning given that he won at least one Slam every year from 2005-2013. Has his intense play style finally taken its toll and burned out his knees? With all this rest and continued hard work, it is difficult to count the Spaniard out of any tournament going into 2017. That said, given all his injury concerns and lack of consistency in later years, a Slam title would be a nice surprise for Rafa fans. Given he is 30 he should not be written-off similarly to Roger Federer before the latter won his seventh Wimbledon title at age 30.
2016 was a breakout season for the 28 year-old German. Her season included two Slam championships, Wimbledon runner-up, silver at the Olympic Games, and runner-up at the WTA Finals; not too shabby indeed. In doing so, she dethroned the mighty Serena Williams, and cemented her position amongst the elite women in tennis. For Angelique, 2016 has been a year of blossoming. In 2017, repeating what she did this year may be harder. She will have a rejuvenated Serena Williams returning to reclaim her throne. Can she fend her off?
Don’the let the lone Slam championship fool you; Andy Murray had a great season. Aside from winning Wimbledon, the Scot’s season also included three Masters championships, Olympic gold, and the year-end finals. His season did not really take off until the second half, but it seems a reunion with former coach Ivan Lendl may have done the trick. Murray is undoubtedly playing the best tennis of his career. He overcame a tall order already in supplanting Novartis Djokovic as World no. 1, but can he remain atop men’s tennis in 2017? I believe 2017 will push Murray to his limits.
The 35 year-old legend seemed worn-down when she succumbed to Karolina Pliskova in the U.S. Open semi-final. Her movement was not the same and it showed. She later ended her 2016 season on a sour note as she withdrew from the WTA Finals, after not playing since the U.S. Open. The season began well, but she found herself runner-up at both the French and Australian Opens. The season culminated in her Wimbledon victory and 22nd Slam. After missing the rest of the season past the U.S. Open, she still finished 2016 as world no. 2. On the whole, I’d say her season was definitely not a failure, but it was quite disappointing given her performance in 2015. Expect miss Williams to return hungry, strong, and with a vengeance. Watch out for her in 2017!
Ever since his eventual victory at the seemingly elusive French Open, Novak Djokovic was complete. He finally had his career Slam. Then the wheels fell off so to speak…. At one point, the Serb had over 8,000 points more than world no. 2, Andy Murray. As the season drew on, it became apparent that he was suffering from a post-Slam hangover. The fierceness just was not there and he found himself succumbing to opponents he would normally brush aside. 2016 was by no means a failure for the Serbia as no man would not take two Slams in any given season. Given the anticlimatic ending to his season however, there has to be some disappointment there. First-half Djokovic was just so, so good, and second-half Djokovic…. Well not so much. In 2017 the Serb will have a mission. Losing the no. 1 ranking could act as a propellant, and fuel Djokovic’s quest for a return to the behemoth he was in 2015. Andy Murray, watch out!
We shall finish with perhaps the most interesting player on this list. Miles Raonic had his best season in 2016. This year he managed to reach the Wimbledon final, as well as the semi-final at the Australian Open. He also qualified for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in which he also lost in the semi-finals. The overall resume for 2016 granted him his highest ranking ever: world no. 3. The Canadian has always had a miss let for a serve, but this year he really harnessed that weapon, and made his opponents suffer. With some imporvements to his return game, the Canadian took big strides towards becoming a more complete player this season. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic continued to be big obstacles to him, but he proved that even in his losses that he has the game to beat them while he continues to mature. Of any “outsiders,” or non-Slam winners Milos appears to have the best shot at claiming Slam title in 2017. His improvement in 2016 has him primed for a title run. If anything, 2016 has given him confidence more than anything that he belongs with the game’s elite. Keep an eye on this Canadian as he may well just pleasantly surprise us in 2017.
Have a very merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all!